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Wreckage of lost ship USS Indianapolis found after seven decades

© US NAVY/AFP | This 1937 image released by the US Navy shows the USS Indianapolis in Pearl Harbor in 1937. Researchers announced they have discovered wreckage of the WW II cruiser 72 years after it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine

WASHINGTON (AFP) - 

Researchers announced Saturday they discovered wreckage of the lost warship the USS Indianapolis, 72 years after the World War II cruiser was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.

The wreckage was found in the Philippine Sea 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) below the surface, according to philanthropist Paul Allen, who headed the civilian research crew that located the ship.

The ship was hit in the final days of World War II just after completing a secret mission delivering parts of the atomic bomb used in Hiroshima.

The vessel sank in just 12 minutes, meaning it was unable to send a distress signal or deploy life-saving equipment, according to the history division of the US Navy.

Some 800 of the ship's 1,196 sailors and marines initially survived the maritime disaster, but only 316 ultimately lived after enduring several days in shark-infested waters where they also faced risks of dehydration and drowning. Of those survivors, 22 are still alive today, the US Navy said.

"To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling," said Allen.

"As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances."

"While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming."

Allen's team is currently surveying the full site and plans to give a live tour of the wreckage in the coming weeks. Since the sunken vessel is a war grave, it is protected by US law from being disturbed.

© 2017 AFP